CINCINNATI — The Bengals tried to tiptoe around the importance of another season-defining game in Pittsburgh by ignoring the series’ history of lopsided outcomes and ugly moments.
They wound up with more of both.
A 29-14 loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday reinforced the gap between the longtime rivals.
They came away defending their most volatile player, something also familiar after a Steelers game. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict refused to shake Steelers’ hands when he came onto the field for the pregame coin toss. He kicked at the Steelers’ Roosevelt Nix at the end of a play in the first quarter and wasn’t penalized, but he could be disciplined by the league.
“Well, I think the player pushes Vontaze back after the play, and Vontaze, you know, whatever,” coach Marvin Lewis said Monday. “The official’s right there and warned (Nix) not to do that, so I don’t know.”
Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell — who has his own history with Burfict — retweeted video of Burfict’s kick and said, “man dude gotta go man … that’s not football AT ALL!!”
Burfict made a twisting tackle on Bell during a game in 2015 that left the running back with a torn knee. The Steelers took exception to the way Burfict celebrated after the play.
Later that season, Burfict’s shot to Antonio Brown’s head drew a 15-yard penalty that set up Pittsburgh’s winning field goal in a playoff game, and the NFL suspended Burfict for the start of the next season.
On Sunday, Burfict was in for all 69 defensive plays but had only four tackles, no sacks, no pass breakups and no tackles for loss.
Instead of exchanging trash talk long-distance last week, Bengals players generally sidestepped questions about the series’ history of nasty moments, which includes an on-field scuffle during warmups before a game in 2015.
Different approach, same result. The Steelers dominated.
“We’ve been through it where we get super amped up for it and have the pregame scuffles and that stuff, and it still doesn’t come out on the right end,” running back Jeremy Hill said Monday.
The Steelers’ defense controlled the second half, holding the Bengals to one first down and 19 total yards. Andy Dalton was under constant pressure, threw two interceptions and was sacked four times in a span of five plays.
“When we faltered, we weren’t able to kind of gather our steam back,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said Monday.
Dalton also aggravated his sore left ankle, injured two weeks earlier against Buffalo. He walked with a slight limp on Monday.
Rookie running back Joe Mixon was frustrated by the Bengals’ decision to rely on passing in the second half. Mixon carried seven times for 48 yards in the first half, but didn’t get a run in the second half. Overall, the Bengals had just five running plays in the second half, including two scrambles by Dalton.
Mixon questioned the play calling after the game. Lazor wasn’t surprised by the reaction to so few runs, which he said was partly a factor of how the game unfolded and Cincinnati’s need to score points quickly.
“Not everyone is going to be happy with their (role) all the time,” Lazor said. “And I’ve done it before, so I understand. Some guys handle it better than others. Some of them it shows by the look on their face, some of them by their body language, you can tell. It’s not the first time.”